16 Miles: In Which Things Get Real

This is the story I remember from when Pete was training for his first marathon: He went out to run 16 miles for the first time, just a little longer than he’d run before. He ended up sitting down on the side of a Golden Gate Park path he’d run a zillion times, three miles from home that might as well have been thirteen.

He made it home fine and went on to run an awesome 18-miler the next week, and later an awesome marathon — so that terrible run was hardly a sign of disaster. But it made me forever think of 16 miles as the distance when marathon training gets really, really real.

After three runs in a row that followed roughly the same route in Golden Gate Park, I needed a change of scenery for this run. A Dailymile friend had suggested the Lafayette-Moraga Trail in the East Bay, and some research and intel from Aron confirmed that it would be ideal. The plan was to run a warm-up mile near the trailhead, then run the whole 7.5ish-mile out-and-back to get to 16.

Jumping to the end of the story: I ran 16 miles, and I did not collapse by the side of the road. My IT band behaved perfectly well — I’d brought a book and my own set of car keys in case I needed to turn back early, and I was committed to walking back at the first sign of pain, all of which turned out to be unnecessary — and the only new damage appears to be one teeny blister. I managed to get lost three different times, and this is why you should never let me plan your running routes, but miles are miles whether they’re on a trail or on a sidewalk directly opposite (but somehow out of view of) the trail, and at the end of the day, my watch still read 16.

I also have absolutely no idea how anyone runs a marathon.

For the first time, I hit my goal long run pace, averaging just over 10:30 miles (10:31 or 10:33, depending on how many decimal places you count). This did not feel “stupid easy,” though, the way some much faster paces did a few weeks ago. This did not feel remotely in the same zip code as easy, but I didn’t understand how to make it easier without just walking. I tacked on an extra tenth at the end, to guard against my GPS reading short (since I got lost, I also lost the feedback of the trail markers) and to make sure Nike+ would actually count it as 16 miles, and even running an extra .1 was hard — much less imagining running another TEN-POINT-ONE.

Looking at the Nike+ data gives me some clues as to why this felt tough: The first five miles of the path go slowly uphill, and while it’s nothing too dramatic (400ish feet?), that’s a long stretch of mostly false flat. (Weirdly, the mile I felt the worst was downhill.) I clearly could have paced this more evenly: 10 of the 16 miles were between 10:05 and 10:25, but the ones that were over 10:30 were very, very over. A later-than-planned start also didn’t help; it wasn’t a particularly warm day by East Bay standards, but if it’s not 60 and foggy I don’t understand what’s going on, and bad run-math meant I was finishing the toughest part of my longest run ever at goddamned noon.

But hey: I ran 16 miles! I don’t know why 16 felt like such a leap, why it felt like so much more of a physical and mental struggle than 13 or 14 ever have, but it’s a leap I made. And when I told Pete later that I didn’t understand how anyone ran a marathon, he said: Just keep adding two miles. You’ll add two more, and two more, and two more. Eventually, you’ll get there.

Two more miles? Katie-Bell-style now: I own this shit.

I even got this sweet Nike+ badge thingie:

Which, OK, actually made me pretty proud. Especially because the last Nike+ badge I got was, no lie, this (after Saturday’s bike ride):


  • Pre-run food/beverage: pumpkin bread, 16 oz of water with a Nuun tab. During-run food/beverage: 30-ish ounces of water (started with 10 oz and half a Nuun tab and refilled the bottle at least twice from fountains along the route); one chocolate Honey Stinger gel at the hour mark; two margarita Shot Bloks at the two-hour mark; one last margarita Shot Blok around 2:15-2:20. Stomach was fine, suggesting that I really am better at fueling for long runs than for a stupid five-miler.
  • I’ve done the same basic long run nutrition since I started needing nutrition for long runs, but the specific flavors and brands were both new this time. The margarita Bloks aren’t my favorite jelly thing — and I like almost all jelly things — but my body craves salt in the heat, and I think they’ll be a good choice for any hot run. The Honey Stinger gel tasted fine, like slightly chocolatey honey (um, surprise), but it was too runny to take easily, and I doubt I’ll buy another.
  • The last water fountain was out of order, and Pete and I both were hurting for water when we got back to the car. I opened the trunk to get my phone and map the nearest gas stations, and there I discovered most of a jug of distilled water left over from Wildflower camping. I have rarely felt more gleeful in my life.
  • I’m not sure if it was hunger, dehydration, the change in motion, or a combination of the three, but I started feeling nauseated on the drive back to the city. I was also craving a Slurpee, per usual, so we stopped at a Berkeley 7-11, and sure enough, the stupid Slurpee settled my stomach. If I keep running in the East Bay, I will probably develop a pretty solid mental map of all the 7-11s.
  • I understand the logic of the cutback week, but it also made me feel like I’d forgotten how to run for more than 90 minutes. I’m excited to be building again.
  • When the Of Monsters and Men song on this playlist came on, I started singing. Loudly. Like nobody could hear how out of key I was. Which greatly amused the cycling couple who were coming up the hill as I started barreling down.
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6 thoughts on “16 Miles: In Which Things Get Real

  1. danielle says:

    i remember thinking the very same thing a few years ago… “how do people ever run 26.2 miles?!” you will get there, i promise! and the best feeling is when you get to the point in the marathon when you have never run past whatever distance you got to in your training… very special.
    everyone keeps talking about “of monsters and men”… ill have to check them out (they were here in concert a few weeks ago…) and i see you have florence & the machine on there, do you have “shake it out”? love that song.

    • kimretta says:

      Thanks! I did enjoy the thrill of “this is farther than I’ve ever run in my life!”

      I just missed getting to see Of Monsters and Men here. I have a feeling they’re a lot of fun live. And I somehow don’t have “Shake it Out” on any of my playlists yet, but I do love that song, too!

  2. katie says:

    Yeah, I have NO idea how people run marathons. (Hush, that thing at the end of IM doesn’t count). It’s SO FAR.

  3. Karyn says:

    Long-time lurker here, first time commenter…

    Anyway, first, just wanted to say congrats on the 16 miler. I too don’t know how anyone ever runs a marathon, but you will and you’ll rock it.

    Second, I don’t typically run with music (actually, I’ve NEVER run with music), but if I did, I would soooo want you to make my playlist! What a great selection of long run tunes you’ve got going on there.

    • kimretta says:

      Awww, thank you! Making playlists is one of my favorite parts of long-run planning. It lets my college radio DJ skills come out to play!

      And thanks for the encouragement — I love your blog and am so impressed that you’re about to be an Ironman x2!

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